iTunes $9.99 Multi-Pass: Just What Videos Needed

This morning brought a very pleasant surprise for fans of two Comedy Central shows – and those hoping to see Apple’s iTunes Music Store become an even bigger force in digital downloads. Along with the addition of popular political news show parodies The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to iTunes, Apple unveiled Multi-Pass, a $9.99 subscription package that provides 16 episode downloads for a single low price. Individual episodes can still be purchased for $1.99.

As Apple explains it, the Multi-Pass “includes the most recent episode (if one is available) and the next 15 new episodes” of the show. “The most recent episode (if available) will download immediately and future episodes will download as they become available.” To get the math out of the way, you’d normally pay a little under $32 for the same 16 episodes through iTunes – a serious “savings” of roughly $22 if you actually believed the episodes were worth $2 a piece in the first place. Using Multi-Pass, you pay less than 65 cents per show, a much better deal.

But the other really smart component of Multi-Pass is its subscription premise. You’re still making a bulk purchase, like buying a $9.99 album from iTunes, but now delivery of 15/16 of the content takes place over the course of weeks rather than immediately. The convenience factor is obvious – no more clicking once per new episode; just turn on iTunes or keep it running in the background, and they’ll download automatically upon release. Given concerns from some of our readers over interrupted or failed download attempts – and problems getting resolution from iTunes customer service – we hope that Apple has a mechanism in place to make sure that people are actually getting what they paid in advance to receive.

iTunes $9.99 Multi-Pass: Just What Videos Needed

That aside, our biggest questions at this point are these: how widespread will Multi-Pass become, and will Apple develop a similarly reasonable bulk purchase model for older videos? At the moment, it’s hard to tell – or even make an educated guess – whether subscriptions to The Daily Show or The Colbert Report are representative of an emerging iTunes video trend, or just a test of a specific genre of TV content. After all, topical news programs – even comedy ones – might not be assumed to have the same shelf life as, say, episodes of the A-Team. Who would pay, goes the argument, for days- or weeks-old news? It’s conceivable that Multi-Pass is destined only for this sort of content – that which has lots of value each day it’s downloaded, but little value thereafter.

Even so, we strongly – emphasis on the word “strongly” – hope to see Multi-Pass appear across a much wider swath of TV shows. While we applauded Apple’s breakthrough $1.99 per show pricing last October as a good first step towards popularizing paid video downloads, there has been no doubt in our minds that mass-market acceptance would depend on smarter pricing and/or superior video quality; in both an iLounge poll and a Reader Editorial, readers appeared to agree, even though a majority ultimately said that Apple’s move to video was the most important iPod/iTunes event of 2005. From everything we’ve seen, we believe that readers are saying this: iPod and iTunes videos are a big deal and great idea – just sell them to us at a more reasonable price, make sure they look good on both iPods and computers, and we’ll buy them.

iTunes $9.99 Multi-Pass: Just What Videos Needed

iLounge has previously noted that users have options for getting video onto their iPods – using and transferring content from DVRs, converting existing video files into iPod format (with iTunes or specific Windows PC or Mac programs), or downloading from the iTunes Music Store. Frankly, as most of iLounge’s editors are now hooked on The Office, and have downloaded multiple episodes, we’ve found that the convenience and commercial-free nature of iTunes downloads makes them a preferred choice. But pricing will be key to winning over millions more people. Multi-Pass has given us all new reason to believe that iTunes’ videos could actually beat music’s 1,000,000,000 downloads record, sooner rather than later.

What do you think about Multi-Pass and $9.99, 16-episode downloads? As always, we appreciate and look forward to reading your comments below.

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